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Better Days Coming for Tourism?

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Jason Ubay / HPR
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Industry leaders in tourism are still treading water, but many see a real recovery coming soon.

We’re a year out from the start of the Covid pandemic and the travel restrictions put in place to limit its spread. Checking in with business leaders across the tourism sector, including the Hawaii Tourism Authority, PBN finds an industry with growing optimism about a recovery, while still struggling to endure the reality that the recovery has barely begun.

The state of Hawaii’s Safe Travels program has so far made the biggest difference, allowing visitors to skip the mandatory quarantine if they have a negative Covid test result. That went into place Oct. 15. Arrivals grew from fewer than 19-thousand statewide in September to nearly 236,000 in December. But that is still down 80% from pre-Covid levels.

Adaptation has been key to survival. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, for example, took a big hit when the Expedia Group closed its in-person concierge desks in Hawaii. This had been the No. 1 source of guests for the helicopter tour company. So the company did something new: it got into the concierge business, partnering with the former Expedia employees to reestablish the service in hotels statewide.

As recovery looks more possible, people are looking ahead to return of the top tourism concern pre-Covid — too many visitors. John De Fries, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, says the total number of visitors is not the problem so much as managing them when they’re here so as to not overwhelm the most heavily visited sites. He says the HTA is already developing Destination Management Action Plans for each of the four counties.

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